Moscow’s forces began evacuating a major city in southern Ukraine and Kyiv’s shot down an Iranian-made Russian drone Tuesday, as Ukraine’s lightning counter-offensive continued.
Russian troops were seen fleeing from Melitopol, a city in the southern portion of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia province, exiled mayor Ivan Federov said on social media.
“The occupiers ran from Melitopol towards the temporarily occupied Crimea,” Federov said on the messaging app Telegram.
He added that “columns of military equipment” from Melitopol were seen passing through Chonhar, some 70 miles to the southwest and bordering Crimea.
“This was expected — the rapid Ukrainian offensive leaves them no chance,” Federov said.
The reports of retreating Russians came hours after multiple explosions were reported in Melitopol near the local airfield, where occupying troops had set up a makeshift base.
There were no further details on those explosions Tuesday — but Melitopol has been a hotbed of Ukrainian guerrilla resistance since it fell to Russian troops early in the war.
It was unclear if Ukrainian troops had advanced towards the city, but the liberation of Melitopol, which sits between the occupied cities of Kherson and Mariupol, would deal yet another blow to Russia’s supply network inside occupied Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities announced that some 150,000 civilians had been liberated so far in Kyiv’s northeast push from Kharkiv.
Nadia Khvostok, a 76-year-old resident of Verbivka said she and her neighbors greeted Ukrainian troops “with tears in our eyes.”
“We could not have been happier. My grandchildren spent two and a half months in the cellar,” she said.
Two miles from the Russian border, in the recently liberated town of Vovchansk, Ukrainian troops were seen burning Russian flags.
Combat continued on the edges of the Kharkiv province, however.
“Fighting is continuing [in the Kharkiv region],” Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said. “It is still early to say full control has been established over [the] Kharkiv region.”
Russia is still estimated to control about a fifth of Ukraine — and it has continued to shell the city of Kharkiv from afar.
Ukraine’s defense ministry said it shot down an Iranian-made Russian drone over Kharkiv Tuesday — punching holes in Tehran’s denials that it’s providing weapons to the Kremlin.
The ministry posted a photo of a shattered drone winglet, with markings in the Cyrillic alphabet used by both Russia and Ukraine.
The winglet resembles the ones used by Iran on its Shahed-136 drone.
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the Iranian capital in July among rumors that his army was running low on precision munitions.
US intelligence suspected that the leaders discussed a weapons deal involving drones, but the presence of Iranian UAVs in the Russian quiver has been an open question.
In Washington Tuesday, the White House said it would be announcing another aid package to Ukraine in the “coming days.”